Saturday, May 28, 2011

Finding John Tully

Searching for ancestors can sometimes lead to dead ends. Take, for instance, John Tully, my husband’s paternal grandmother’s father. Chris’s family members have shared lots of clues with me about John Tully, but once I started down the trail, the scent grew cold.

Handwritten copy for an obituary stated that John Tully came to Chicago in 1866. He was born somewhere in Ireland in 1842. The obituary affirmed that he was “brought to America by his parents in 1845.” And it mentioned that he served in the Civil War under General Hooker.

For none of those statements can I find any substantiation. Yet.

Juxtaposing family lore and actual documentation proved difficult. Alas, when I finally found the actual obituary, published in the Chicago Tribune on February 25, 1907, it mentioned little other than John’s wife’s name and that of his children plus details of the funeral and burial. I should consider it an added research bonus that his wife’s maiden name was included in the notice. But my disappointment overrode that little plus.

John Tully has certainly been difficult to find. I know he lived in Chicago at least since the time of his marriage to Catherine Malloy in 1870, but I can find no record of him there in the 1870 or 1880 census. Despite having four children born to them by the time of the 1880 census, not one of those children—Margaret, William, Mary Monica, Lily—has left any birth record that I can find through the FamilySearch beta database. It wasn’t until this week that I finally located the record of their firstborn’s childhood death from diphtheria, listed under the first name “Anna,” though in a trip to Chicago several years ago, we had discovered her grave marker, a simple “Daisy” as the inscription—for Margaret Anna’s nickname—in the family plot. Beside the name on this death certificate, it lists “daughter of John and Katherine Tully” and gives the right address, though a different year of death from cemetery records.

At least that is one document that lists John Tully’s name, perhaps the earliest public listing I’ve been able to find.

But there are other ways to track these long-gone relatives. Church records, though not public, are a great help. Through guidance of genealogy forum friends to a specific resource at the Family History Center library, I located a microfilm record of the now-closed St. Anne’s parish, serving the area around 55th Street in Chicago. That’s where I found the 1876 baptismal record for their only son, William Patrick, providing the earliest written documentation that there actually was a John Tully. And there, John and Catherine were listed as parents of Mary Monica—as well as linked to her godparents, James Ryan and his sister Mary, providing the Canadian link to the Ryan family I mentioned before.

As to the lore of birth in Ireland or coming to America in 1845, well, suffice it to say no online ship’s listings have yet substantiated the trip or the Irish origins.

But the Civil War tidbit was tantalizing. There was a General’s name given. I thought, “This will be easy.”

Little did I know, not being a student of the conflict. After poking around on the various online resources Civil War records, years ago I sprung for the bucks and sent for the official NARA pension records of a John Tully that seemed to match my details. Wrong Tully. The response came back, hoping to save me money: this John Tully, though right birth year and residence when enrolled, had moved to North Dakota. It couldn’t be the same one as my John Tully. So I chucked the information, only to regret it, all these years later, when I discovered the Tully/Ryan connection that moved from Canada to North Dakota. Could it have been him, after all? Where did he go during those years before marriage when I couldn’t find him?

John Tully did exist, of course. It’s just the frustration of not finding him that makes one doubt reality. He survived long enough to be counted in the 1900 census, in Chicago near 55th Street, where he probably was all along.

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